There are very specific criteria I look for when placing a futures bet on the NCAA tournament. No team has won a national title without earning a No. 3 seed or better since 1997, when Arizona won it all as a No. 4 seed behind the hot shooting of Mike Bibby, Michael Dickerson, Jason Terry and ESPN's own Miles Simon.
Fourteen of the past 15 champions had seven losses or fewer for the season, the lone exception coming when Kemba Walker's UConn squad beat Butler for the title in 2011. Other criteria I'm looking for include teams that have proved they can win away from home, play championship-level defense, win the battle of the boards, get strong point guard play and have NBA talent on their roster.
All of those characteristics can be thoroughly examined before the brackets come out on Selection Sunday. But the brackets present a new set of challenges -- breaking down the regions, projecting Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups and trying to gauge which teams have a legitimate shot to reach the Final Four. That's the point at which hedging opportunities allow savvy bettors to lock in a profit, regardless of which team ends up cutting down the nets in Atlanta three weeks from now.
This is certainly not a tournament of long shots -- the results don't lie. Kentucky won it all as the No. 1 overall seed last year; Duke was a No. 1 seed in 2010; North Carolina was a No. 1 seed in 2009; Kansas was a No. 1 seed in 2008; and Florida was the No. 1 overall seed in 2007. So while my future wager recommendations might seem a bit chalky to some, they're chalky for a reason.
Here are my top five best bets for the 2013 NCAA title, along with one long shot.
Note: All odds are courtesy of the LVH Superbook here in Vegas.